Today I’m back with a book review for And I Darken by Kiersten White. And I Darken is a YA historical fiction with a very unique concept: it is a gender swap retelling of Vlad the Impaler. Did the author pull it off?
You are going to have to read on to find out 🙂
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Young Adult • Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House Books
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.
Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.
Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.
And I Darken is a gender swap retelling of Vlad the Impaler, who is thought to be the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If you are not familiar with Vlad the Impaler, he was the ruler of Walachia (now Romania) during various times in the mid 1400s. Vlad is best known for his torture of choice, which was to impale his enemies on stakes in the ground and leave them there to suffer a slow and painful death… Brutal right? The moment I heard this was a Vlad retelling, my interest was immediately peaked. Based on the research I did on Vlad the Impaler, White did a fantastic job with this retelling. I think she really stayed true to many events in Vlad’s early life.
I really like how Lada was not the stereotypical YA female warrior. What do I mean by this? She wasn’t overwhelmingly beautiful and didn’t just pick up a sword and instantly knew how to use it. A female lead who is average looking or even ugly as it is implied? It is unheard of, especially in YA. I loved the fact that Lada isn’t just naturally a bad ass, White actually shows us that Lada works for it by training hard. It may just be me, but Lada reminded me a bit of the Disney character Mulan. Because she is a woman, she finds that she must earn the respect of the other male warriors. Lada achieves this by being very resourceful and creative in her fighting/war tactics.
“Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.”
A big criticism of this book is that the main character, Lada, goes through a personality change half way through the book. Personally, I saw this change more as the fact that she was growing up… I also take into consideration that Lada was very much a product of her environment with her father, so once she was no longer in that environment, her disposition softened… at least that is my theory.
Family dynamics are a huge part of And I Darken. Lada is shunned by her father simply because she was not born a boy. She spends much of her childhood focusing on molding herself into someone who is worthy of her father’s love and respect, but it never comes. Lada portrays herself as cold hearted and uncaring, but deep down she is just a girl who desperately wants her father’s approval. I really enjoyed the brother-sister relationship between Lada and Radu throughout this book as well. To me, it was very realistic in the sense that sibling relationships are sometimes very love-hate. I really enjoyed watching their relationship grow and develop. I grew up with 3 brothers, so I understand this dynamic very well. I liked to torment my little brother, but I was also the first person to defend him if someone else tried to mess with him.
“If anyone is going to kill you, it will be me. Understand?”
Radu nodded, snuggling into her shoulder. “Will you protect me?
“Until the day I kill you.”
Speaking of Radu, he was such a wonderfully complex character. While his sister uses her brawn, Radu uses his mind. It was very interesting to see Radu develop from a “weakling” and watch him climb the social ladder into a position of power. I was pleasantly surprised to find that religion, specifically Islam, was such a big part in Radu’s life. While it is true that I am not a fan when religion in books feels “preachy,” White gives us just the right amount of religious undertones that felt more like it was enlightening the reader instead of pushy or preachy.
“You are wrong, Lada. Belief is not weakness. Faith is the greatest strength we have.”
*Side note: I may be in the minority here, but I am not on team Mehemed. Mehemed is one of those people who want to have their cake and eat it too. Mark my words, his greed will be the end of him.
The pacing of And I Darken is very much on the slower side, which suited me just fine, BUT if you are not a fan of books that unfold slowly, this may not be the book for you. The majority of the “action” in this book comes in the form of political drama: plots to concur other kingdoms, overthrowing leaders, murdering heirs, etc. etc. If you are a fan of books or TV shows with lots of political intrigue (think Philippa Gregory books), I would recommend this book to you.
I have read review upon review of disappointed readers who said this was not the fantasy book that they were anticipating. I am not sure why 955 people on Goodreads tagged this book as fantasy, but it is definitely historical fiction. I repeat, this book is NOT fantasy.
And I Darken has lots of things going for it: a strong female main character, complex supporting characters, political drama, action, and a touch of romance. There were a few annoyances, but nothing that hindered my enjoyment of the book. I LOVED how things all panned out in the end. Bravo White! I look forward to the sequel, Now I Rise, which is expected to release on June 27, 2017.